Squeezers and creepers in drystone walls

The craft of dry stone walling

Spring and summer is a busy time for wildlife. Whilst the birds are nesting in the woods and out on the moors, the Rangers move to the paths and busy areas to carry out maintenance work.

There are an estimated 8756 km of dry stone walls in the Peak District National Park, bringing with them the endless task of rebuilding. Dry stone walling is a dying art, however it is a craft which becomes a common task for the National Trust Rangers across the Peak District. Here Area Ranger, Steve Lindop, tells us how to build a drystone wall.

How to build a dry stone wall

The standard double wall we build is constructed using a combination of foundation, face, through and coping stones. These are built to an A shape using frames and walling lines. The two main types of stone we build with are gritstone and limestone.

The foundations

The foundation stones are laid firmly into the subsoil and then we lay flattish face stones which diminish in size as the wall is built up, row by row. At regular intervals large tie stones, or through stones, are placed spanning the full length of the wall, sometimes projecting to create a style. These through stones help bond the wall together, increasing the strength of the wall.

The heart of the wall

The middle of the wall is filled in with small stones called hearting or filling stone, binding the wall together when it settles. Each square metre of wall is approximately one ton in weight. When built on soil, over time the wall sinks slowly and the small stones move with the wall, refilling any holes created in the middle of the structure.

Coping stones

The final layer of large stones on top of the wall are called coping, top  stones  or capstones. They are stood upright and tightly pressed together, again spanning the full length of the wall, preventing the wall from being pulled apart.

Creeps and squeezers

Sometimes the walls will contain special features like cripple holes, or sheep creeps as we call them, which allow wildlife and sheep to move from field to field. Other features are gaps called squeeze stiles, for walkers to pass through.

Tools for the job

The common tools used for building drystone walls are traditional walling hammers, of which one end has a cutting edge and the opposite edge is blunt for crushing stones. Spades, mattocks and iron crow bars are used for digging out old foundations, when rebuilding a wall.

History

Drystone walls can be traced back to the Neolithic age but the majority of walls in northern England would have been constructed as part of the enclosure act in the eighteenth century, particularly those on the high hills. This was an act of parliament which enclosed open fields and common land, creating legal property rights to previously considered commoners land.

Steven Lindop

Area Ranger,  Estate Team, Peak District

Dry Stone Walling is a historical tradition rich in craft and technique
Dry Stone Walling is a historical tradition rich in craft and technique
Dry Stone Walling is a historical tradition rich in craft and technique